Thought experiment: is there any scenario, at all, where a black youth can be killed and you won’t find people falling all over themselves to defend it? Or at the very least where you have to actively look for people defending it, rather than having them pop up in the first 5-10 comments on any given article about it?
How about a 12-year-old girl going door-to-door selling Girl Scout cookies, in broad daylight? She shouldn’t have been on someone else’s property! They had a No Soliciting sign up! The green uniform could have been gang colors, he was right to feel threatened! Besides, the Girl Scouts promote lesbianism and abortions, she got what she deserved!
Hmm. What about an 8-year-old boy walking his adorable fuzzy puppy on a sidewalk? The dog was barking! He was disturbing the peace! Plus, black people sometimes train their dogs to attack white people, didn’t you know that? Happened to my neighbor’s nephew’s roommate. So the guy felt like he had to defend himself! Also, he was wearing baggy clothing, so he was probably a thug-in-training anyway. Probably let the dog poop on other people’s lawns. Totally justified.
Like many others, I am heartsick over the shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride. I can’t imagine what it must be like for her family right now, losing their daughter over something so senseless and avoidable. I’m saddened by it, I’m angry about it.
But I’m not shocked.
Why? Well, because we told people it was ok to do. When George Zimmerman walked free. When people locked their doors and did nothing while Glenda Moore’s toddlers drowned. When the deaths of Jordan Davis and Jonathan Ferrell are flash-in-the-pan news stories, swept under the rug and quickly forgotten.
The story the media tells us, over and over again, is that black lives are less important than white convenience. That you, as a non-black person, shouldn’t ever have to feel a moment of discomfort, of fear, of anything less than perfect security. You should NEVER have to feel these things. And if a black person has to die to make sure you never feel those things, oh well. Guess they should have thought about that before they decided to go around being black in public.
Do I think the person who shot Renisha was racist? No, not really, not in the sense of hating black people and choosing to shoot her because she was black. I mean, it’s possible – I found at least one website (which I will NOT link to) celebrating her death, hoping there will soon be more like it, and saying it’s what she deserved for being in a white neighborhood. So, y’know, maybe he saw a young black woman on his front porch, thought “hot damn, it’s my lucky day!”, and ran to get his shotgun. But I doubt it; happily, that sort of mustache-twirling, cartoonishly-evil racism is pretty rare these days.
But do I think her race, and racism, played a huge factor? Absolutely. I think the man who shot her was quick to code her as a threat, not necessarily because he hates black people, but because we’ve been taught by the media and by wide-spread prejudices that have surrounded us all our lives to see black faces as more inherently scary than white ones. And I think he responded to feeling threatened by pointing a deadly weapon at her (I don’t know, maybe it WAS an accidental discharge, I have no way of knowing – but that doesn’t get him off the hook, because rule #1 of gun safety is you DO NOT POINT A GUN AT ANYONE OR ANYTHING YOU DON’T INTEND TO SHOOT), not because he actively wanted to shoot a black person, but because he’s been getting the same poisonous message as the rest of the country: that you don’t need to be as careful with black lives, because black lives just aren’t worth as much.
But above and beyond the one asshole who decided that the best way to respond to a kid asking for help was with a gun, I’m finding myself extremely disturbed by the comments I’m seeing about this. Specifically, the comments in defense of the nameless shooter.
First and foremost, I just have a question: when you hear a story about an unarmed teenager who was shot to death while looking for help, WHY, oh WHY would your immediate, knee-jerk reaction be to side with the shooter? Why would you do that? How can you possibly justify that instinctive response, to side with the strong over the weak, the aggressor over his victim? How can you do that and still call yourself a good person?
I’ve seen people try to justify this by saying that well, she shouldn’t have walked away from the scene of the accident. (So for leaving an accident scene, she deserved to die?) By saying that ANYBODY knocking on the door at 2:30 am is going to seem threatening. (So what are you supposed to do if you’re in trouble at that time and don’t have a phone?) By claiming that, well, the ‘woman in distress’ ploy has been used to lure people into ambushes before, so therefore a woman claiming to be in distress is immediately suspect.
That last one just bugs me. I mean, sure, maybe – although I’m pretty sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to dupe someone and then get the better of them, and if we were going to be on guard against every single one, we’d probably never interact with another human being again. But ok, say you’re nervous about this and you worry that maybe this woman asking for help is just trying to lure you out of your house. So you don’t open the door or let her in. You talk to her through the door, offer to call a tow truck or whatever for her, but you don’t go outside to where she is. Fine. What you DON’T do is point a goddamn shotgun at her mouth (where it can “accidentally discharge” and kill her.)
It just seems like people are investing so much energy into coming up with these elaborate scenarios where shooting her COULD have been justified, and then going “well, he had no way of knowing she WASN’T an evil flesh-eating alien from Omnicrom 5 wearing the skin of a human girl as a disguise! It was a POSSIBILITY! So he was totally justified in shooting first and asking questions later!” And so much of the focus is on “well, try to put yourself in his shoes, wouldn’t you feel threatened?” His shoes? Try putting yourself in her shoes!
Because that’s what it seems like these people are loathe to do. I have to wonder – have any of them ever been in a bad spot in their lives? Have they ever had to rely on the kindness of a total stranger, because bad shit just crashed down on them at the wrong moment? If they haven’t, well, that’s a pretty extreme sign of privilege, and it’d be nice if they could just take a moment and be grateful that their lives go so smoothly. But I have.
I can imagine very well what it must have felt like, getting into an accident in the wee hours of the morning. Any car crash at all is incredibly disorienting – when I crashed my truck, I lost track of close to an hour, and I wasn’t even injured. Renisha was – witnesses reported she was bleeding from the head, and was mostly saying “I want to go home, I want to go home.” Doesn’t sound like the most coherent state of mind. So: dazed, disoriented, in pain, scared, in a strange neighborhood with a cell phone whose battery had died. There was a witness, who went inside to call 911, but in her state I doubt if she was even aware of that. What would you do in that situation? Not knowing what would happen, not knowing if anyone was coming, would you just sit patiently by your car and hope that magically someone would notice you and help? Or would you do what we were taught to do as kids – find someone to help you? Because that’s what I would have done. Tried to find somebody, anybody, to let me use a phone or make a call for me or something. Trusted the people around me to do the right thing and help someone in need.
By any metric, Renisha didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t threaten anyone. She didn’t harm anyone. She may have made a questionable decision while under extremely stressful circumstances, but who hasn’t done that? She wasn’t armed, wasn’t dangerous. She wasn’t a threat, no matter how you claim she may have been perceived. But to the people defending the shooter, the fact that she didn’t do anything that merited being shot is a minor quibble at best.
And I think it’s really interesting that the question of whether Renisha deserved to die for the heinous crime of being stranded at night and seeking help seems less important to these people than the question of whether her shooter was “justified” in feeling threatened. That the dialogue now seems to be that if you can find any possible reason, no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched or steeped in (conscious or unconscious) prejudice for someone to feel afraid, it’s therefore 100% ok for that person to open fire on whoever is making them feel that way. I don’t think that’s what laws like Stand Your Ground were intended to convey, but that’s the message they’re actually sending – that lethal force is an appropriate response to ANYTHING that shakes you out of your comfort zone. (And yes, a lot of attempts to claim SYG have been denied by courts, but that doesn’t bring its victims back to life – someone shot because their killer mistakenly thought SYG protected them is still dead.)
And when you have a law that seems to encourage shooting anyone who makes you feel threatened, combined with a culture that marks one particular group as being disproportionately “scary” and “threatening” (regardless of the person in question’s actual actions, demeanor, etc.), what do you get?
You get a lot of dead black kids, that’s what you get. And people coming out of the woodwork to defend the folks that killed them.